7 Important Foods That Seniors Need to Maintain Good Health
Eating habits and dietary requirements change as we get older. The body’s metabolism naturally slows down as it ages and, as a result, requires fewer daily calories to sustain energy levels. However, it also needs more nutrients, meaning senior citizens should be more cognizant of what they eat to promote good physical and mental health. In particular, many seniors don’t get enough protein, vitamins, magnesium, calcium, and fiber in their diet.
Below are seven foods that all seniors should incorporate in their diet to maintain good physical and mental health and reduce their risk of disease.
1. Dark Leafy Greens
Dark leafy greens, like spinach, leaf lettuce, kale, and Swiss chard are great sources of minerals, vitamins, and carotenoids, the latter of which have been linked to better eye health outcomes, particularly in regards to oxidative damage. There’s also evidence that carotenoids can reduce the risk of lung, stomach, skin, and breast cancer.
These greens are also rich in vitamin K, which has been shown to prevent and reduce the risk for osteoporosis. Spinach is high in vitamins A and C, which help maintain good heart health and moderate blood pressure levels.
2. Cruciferous Vegetables
Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and turnips are all examples of cruciferous vegetables. Because they have a high percentage of glucosinolates, these types of vegetables are known for their pungent, sulfurous smell when cooked and are vital to cell health. They protect healthy cells from carcinogens and have been linked to a reduced risk of breast, lung, and colorectal cancer. They also have anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties and are a great low-calorie source of fiber and vitamins.
Seniors should strive to eat at least two cups of cruciferous vegetables and leafy greens per day. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts can be eaten on their own as a side dish at dinner or thrown into pasta dishes, casseroles, and soups for added nutrition.
Seniors should try to eat fresh fruit and vegetables every day. Blueberries, in particular, should be prioritized as they are rich in cell-protecting antioxidants and have been linked to a reduced risk of cancer and heart disease. Studies on animals and humans have also suggested that blueberries can help fight off age-related cognitive decline. Moreover, eating berries and other antioxidant-rich foods can also help seniors sustain good bone health.
“Some causes of bone loss can be attributed to increased oxidative stress through the aging process,” notes Reema Kanda, a California-based registered dietitian and nutritionist. “Several studies have identified greater fruit intake with decreased fracture risk, greater bone mineral density, and decreased bone turnover.”
4. Fatty Fish and Seafood
It’s not enough for seniors to eat just fruits and vegetables. People 65 years and older should strive to eat about 0.50 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day. A senior who is 180 pounds, then, should consume at least 90 grams of protein each day. Seniors with chronic diseases should consume even more protein per day. Yet, according to a 2019 study published in The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, almost half of all seniors fail to meet the minimal dietary guidelines for protein intake.
Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, trout, and herring are not only great sources of protein but also include omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. Salmon, in particular, can also improve brain health and regulate blood pressure.
5. Whole Grains
Seniors should also eat whole grains as part of a balanced diet. Men and women 50 years and older should eat at least four and three servings, respectively, of whole grains each day. Whole grain foods include bread, oatmeal, granola, brown rice, and pasta. The packaging for these and other foods with substantial amounts of whole grain have labels that identify the amount of whole grain grams in a single serving of the product.
Higher whole grain consumption is linked to less inflammation, slower age-related cognitive decline, and a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
6. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts are a great source of plant protein, which is great for seniors who are looking to increase their daily protein intake while trying to avoid eating too much red meat. Nuts like almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, and pecans are also high in fiber, antioxidants, and monounsaturated fats, which all contribute to better overall health.
Many seeds, meanwhile, have anti-inflammatory properties and are considered superfoods. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology suggested that chia seeds can improve heart and liver health while preventing certain types of cancer.
7. Dark Chocolate
An effective diet is all about moderation, and the same is true for seniors. While it’s vital to eat a healthy, balanced diet, older adults should also indulge in their favorite foods once in a while, especially if that food is dark chocolate. Eating small amounts of dark chocolate that is composed of at least 70 percent cacao has been shown to decrease the risk of stroke in women by 20 percent. Dark chocolate can also help lower blood pressure and improve memory.